Remember the scourge of measles? Virtually eliminated in the United States in 2000, the virus is resurging nationally, fueled by an anti-vaccine movement that medical experts say has no scientific basis. Four cases were reported in Sarasota County in December 2018, all home-schooled children from two households who were in contact with one another. In the previous 10 years, Sarasota County recorded one case, a student from the United Kingdom who contracted the virus overseas.
‘‘ Our vaccination rate in Sarasota County is frustrating and concerning," says Michael Drennon, Sarasota County Disease Intervention Services program manager. "It is crucial that we have enough people vaccinated to create ‘herd immunity’ so that the virus cannot spread.’’
Before measles vaccinations became widespread in the 1960s, the virus infected 500,000 people annually in the United States, mostly children, killing 450 to 500 a year and leaving thousands with disabilities such as hearing loss.
Worldwide, vaccinations prevented 20.4 million deaths from measles between 2000-2016. Infections in the United States became so rare that many doctors never treated a case. The virus was declared eliminated from the Western Hemisphere more than a decade ago.
It’s the Law
In Florida, vaccinations are required at ages 12 to 15 months and again between the ages of 5 and 6. The vaccine also protects children against mumps and rubella.
2018 Measles Uptick
Almost 1,000 cases have been reported in the United States in the past 13 months. Florida recorded 15 cases in 2018, more than in the previous four years combined. Children whose medical conditions prevent them from being vaccinated are most at risk as vaccine rates decline.
Sarasota Ranks Last
Only 90 percent of children of kindergarten age in Sarasota County have been vaccinated, the lowest rate of any county in the state and significantly below the goal of 95 percent needed to ensure that the disease remains dormant.
Sarasota’s Religious Exemptions
Proof of vaccinations is required in Florida to attend public, private and charter schools. But 7.2 percent of Sarasota County’s kindergartners last year were exempted for religious reasons, the highest rate in Florida and triple the state average.
Those who oppose vaccinations claim they cause autism. But repeated scientific studies have found the measles vaccine is safe, effective and not linked to autism.
Sources: Florida Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control, Sarasota County Schools, World Health Organization, Pan American Health Organization, media reports.